When One Medium Isn’t Enough: Using Transmedia to Amplify Experiences

It’s no secret anymore that people have different learning styles, and that each method of teaching has its benefits for demonstrating information while meeting your audience where they are most comfortable. Why should entertainment be any different?

As a transmedia director, Nicole Sorochan utilizes a variety of mediums to tell a story.

When she joined us as a speaker at UX Week 2016, we heard about her work on Amplify Her. She described it as human experience design, spanning documentary film, a comic book, and an animated short film series. All these pieces come together in live experiences such as the screenings she’s currently preparing for in San Francisco.

Trailer for the film.

We had the opportunity to catch up with Nicole and hear about what’s new with Amplify Her.

It’s so great to hear from you! What’s happened since you spoke at UX Week?

I really enjoyed UX Week because I could bring my two worlds together. The tech side, agency/product standpoint, and to talk about the indie film together… I never get to talk about the intersection.

After the talk in 2016, we were really close to having the film done. Then our broadcaster filed for bankruptcy, canceled our contract, and we lost a huge chunk of our funding. In Canada, that’s a big deal. Basically, losing a broadcast license kills our chance of getting funding. This happened to 100 indie films across Canada.

Oh wow, that means not only did you lose your funding, but you were in competition for remaining slots with others who’d also lost theirs?

That’s right. With 100+ films that no longer had broadcasters, there was nowhere for films to go.

I tried my best to think the whole time that our content is strong, it’s going to make it through this mess. We hired a lot of women, and for me, it was more important to honor their work. I second-mortgaged my house to make sure artists got paid. Placing value on things equals impact, and also for these women not getting paid for the work was the opposite of what we were creating.

At the time we were just wrapping motion graphics. We sat back and watched the film, and then we sat back and watched the comics…Something was missing from the emotion of the film, and we decided to re-edit the film on evenings and weekends.

So most of your team fell into the “creatives with day jobs” category, working on Amplify Her as a side hustle?

For the most part. The comic book artists work on commissions. Some of them took on small jobs as freelancers. The animators all work for big studios, and do it between their jobs. I run One Net, so my day job is running a company.

How did you get involved?

Working on a female DJ film was a tough pill to swallow. How were female DJs that groundbreaking? I realized that I didn’t actually understand a big part of the question, and it led me to a lot of self-reflection. Ian MacKenzie, the director, asked me, “What unique expression does the feminine have to offer?”

I’d grown up in the tech industry. My office was 90% male, and I was running it. As I started to ask more questions and do more investigation, I started to hear more similar stories. Many women often get shut down. Subconsciously I was competing with women. It’s hard to admit. Things that I find are my biggest assets today are things that I had hidden for so long, like emotional intelligence. The idea of collaboration and creativity. Often these are undervalued, but these are the things that are ultimately feminine.

It’s actually changed how I run my business. 60% women work here now, and we’re more successful because of it. It doesn’t matter what gender, if you bring feminine or masculine qualities to the table, we balance these.

Mapping character journeys during the workshop. Taken from the AMPLIFY HER Facebook page. Photo by KGOODPHOTO.

What was your role in the 2013 film?

My skillset is in transmedia, and it was my entry point. My role was always envisioned this way. Started off as a producer, raised money, put the team together, organized all the shoots, did a lot of the camera work… The dangling carrot was always the transmedia element. I was directing the graphic novel and the transmedia series when we decided to recut the film. When i was talking with Ian, I asked him if he knew where he wanted to go with it. He said no, and I proposed being Creative Co-Director on the final cut of the film. We wouldn’t change a thing.

Transmedia sounds really neat, but how the heck do you map a process for the writing and creative production? Any one of those endeavors of a comic book or film alone take creators years and a ton of resources. Do you know all the storylines for all the platforms when you start, or does one inform the other? And you have to project manage the whole caboodle?!

That’s my superpower! Really it comes down to that’s what I enjoy doing, is puzzle-piecing all these together. Putting responsibility on someone else to execute an aspect, and trust that it’s all going to turn out in the end.

It was about 2 years that I knew what I wanted in the graphic novel and motion series, and in 6 weeks we got the go-time from funders, hired women, booked a location, and programmed the workshop.

Behind-the-scenes of the workshop Nicole created on a remote island.

The process starts with having an idea. The question, theme, character, something has to have legs. Those are the connection points. The interesting shift was I was a transmedia purist. I did not want to put the motion comics into the film. I wanted the wormhole to enter in. Ian pushed me to think otherwise. They were never meant or intended to be in the film, like Blade Runner. The stories didn’t intersect, but we had to rebuild all over again.

For me, it’s hard to think about one medium, and where the story goes is up to the author. If you’re doing the job right, you’re facilitating the story where it needs to go.

When we emailed, you mentioned designing the service experience of the Purple Carpet tour. What’s the service?

Mostly it’s been the idea of serving an outlet for feminine expression, allowing people to experience a chance to work together and collaborate together that doesn’t happen in the industry. We tried to follow diverse women from different angles. Light/healing, dark/carnal, humorous/raunchy…We wanted to show women in ways that oftentimes you don’t get to see them. So we’re creating role models, and opening up what it means to be a woman. So anything between those realms is safe.

What unique expression does the feminine have to offer?

Why is this expression important?

Especially with things going on in Hollywood and the Silicon Valley, it’s super important that we show what’s possible when women get to be the key creatives and create something amazing. If there isn’t value placed on it, if people don’t want to watch it, don’t buy the graphic novel, then ultimately, it’s not going to push more of these types of projects.

What’s special about screening a film that’s part of a transmedia platform?

Part of the experience design, and it’s what I really dig, is how can we make this visceral or immersive? Each screening is a little different, but we’ve played with fur merkins, we had a DJ play in the movie theater, purple carpets… After the film, we try to pair it with an after party that features at least one woman from the film, and then see some people in your community and the music they’re creating.

We’ve noticed people looking at each other differently on the dance floor going into the afterparty because of what they just witnessed on screen. I call that human experience. We’re purposefully crafting the whole evening, it’s not just a movie.

In other cities, we have workshops and stuff planned. We collaborate with the communities to figure out how best to put those pieces together. It becomes a really cool emotional experience. Aside from the Purple Carpet tour, anyone can schedule a screening. We’re open to discussing partnerships and fundraisers for adjacent causes if they’re a good fit. That’s part of the co-creation of what’s next. We talked with one group about doing a game jam with some DJs.

AppleCat performing at the Victoria Purple Carpet Premiere after party. Photo taken from the AMPLIFY HER Facebook page.

How does that work with publishing and distribution?

Great question. That’s our biggest challenge. People have been doing transmedia for a long time. Think of Star Wars. But it’s unexpected in the documentary realm. Distribution has been tough, so we’ve had to do it DIY.

If you went to a publisher and said “I have a book! And a film! And an animated series!”…They’d probably run or only sign one element. I see why you went DIY. How could distributors package it to give audiences what they want?

The only company I see doing this is Amazon, where they could stream movies and sell the books, but they’re not really cross-merchandising well.

How has the audience responded to the experience of the Purple Carpet tour?

Someone at The Stranger said they expected just the Burning Man crowd coming to the film, but I’ve seen the best reactions coming from older women, tears in their eyes. It’s a whole new way of feminism, not just equality but diversity.

There was one woman who came out of the film and said to me, “I felt every piece of emotion in this film, and it felt ok for the first time.”

There was something pretty powerful.

Is it just women that are benefitting from experiencing Amplify Her?

Men also feel good. It’s not antagonistic at all, and shows support cleverly. You’ll never see a male character not get an opportunity to speak, even the men who are in service to women. It’s a demonstration of what it looks like when men are there, and the stability it provides.

A local tech owner in the SF Bay Area decided to sponsor the Castro screening. We are not sure how he learned of the film, but when we asked what we could do to promote his company, he said, “I’m doing it for my daughters. Can I show their picture instead?”

We decided to get his daughters illustrated by the cover artist in comic format. He then asked me to write this on the slide: “To my awesome daughters, who taught me to be a Feminist.”

That response is exactly what this is about.

Thanks so much, Nicole, for taking the time to catch up! We love hearing from past speakers and event alumni.

Tickets are still available for the screening in San Francisco on November 16. Future screenings can be found on the Purple Carpet tour. If you’re not seeing your town, no worries, just reach out to the Amplify Her team to crowd-source a screening near you.

If you liked Nicole’s talk, come check out UX Week! 2018 tickets are on sale now, with early bird pricing!

Nicole Sorochan’s UX Week 2016 talk on AMPLIFY HER as human experience design.